The classic American road trip is a favorite vacation for families and may be an especially great alternative for those trying to plan a safe trip this spring. A road trip can also be a cost-effective way to see a huge variety of attractions and environments across the U.S.
As a family favorite vacation, we set out to see just how much a 48-state road trip costs. Here’s what we found:
- A 48-state road trip would cost about $4,410 for one, and $5,582 for a family of four
- Gas alone would cost around $1,016 for a 34 MPG sedan
- Nevada is the most expensive state to travel through, while Wyoming is the most affordable
The Ultimate 48-State Road Trip
First thing’s first, how do you plan the perfect 48-state road trip? Luckily, this trip has already been planned with the help of Randy Olson and a clever mapping algorithm. This route is optimized to visit each state without leaving the continental U.S. using the shortest route possible This does, unfortunately, mean that Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the U.S. territories, are excluded.
This U.S. road trip is designed to visit national parks, landmarks, historic sites, and monuments — stopping to visit at least one in each state. These are landmarks that showcase the country’s beauty and history to create a memorable and interesting road trip experience for everybody. Of course, there are plenty of other attractions you can stop at on your route to see a little more of each state.
How Much Does a U.S. Road Trip Cost?
Considering gas, three meals a day, and a hotel room for every eight hours driven, you’re looking to spend $4,410 on a 48-state road trip of the continental U.S.
The most expensive cost by far is lodging at $2,904 for a single hotel room every night. This assumes each hotel charges the December 2020 average of $90.92 a night, though historically this cost is higher. It’s also heavily influenced by location, the day you book, and the hotel you choose, so you have some room to splurge or save as you see fit.
Gas is the next most expensive cost at an estimated $1,016.68 to cover your whole trip. To calculate this, we used the average fuel efficiency of a Honda Accord, the most popular car in the U.S., with the average cost of gas per state and the estimated travel miles per state. Be sure to check out local car deals and have your vehicle inspected and maintained before you leave.
Finally, the cheapest expense is also the most variable. We used the average cost of a restaurant meal in each state to estimate that you’ll spend about $488 on food per person. Multiply that for a family of four and you’re now looking at $1,950 to cover your meals and a total road trip cost of $5,782.
The Most and Least Expensive States to Travel Through
Each state offers its own unique attractions and beautiful scenery, and if you’re planning a trip on a budget it can be tough to choose your destination. To help you out, we determined which states are the most and least expensive to travel to.
Most Expensive States to Travel
Home to Las Vegas and miles of desert, Nevada is the most expensive state to travel through. Gas prices average $2.79 a gallon, which is 19 percent more expensive than the U.S. average of $2.26. The average meal cost in Nevada can also get pricey at $12.82 per plate.
New York takes second place as the most expensive state to road trip through, which isn’t a huge surprise considering New York City’s notoriously high costs. New York’s gas and meal prices fall just short of Nevada’s at $2.56 and $12 respectively, but with significantly more stops planned in the state.
Finally, if you’re itching to see the sunny beaches of California, know that it isn’t cheap. Plan to spend $3.45 on gas per gallon — the most expensive gas prices on our list. California meals are a little more affordable, though, at an average of $11.03 a plate. Of course, California is also larger than many other states and is home to several large, more expensive cities. Keep in mind that these costs add up fast.
Most Affordable States to Travel
If you’re looking to save on your vacation, then consider a trip to Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. Gas is affordable at just $2.31 a gallon, and you can save big on restaurants with a meal costing just $8.98 on average.
Michigan is another great and affordable destination with tons of natural beauty. Meals here are the cheapest of any state at just $8.82 a plate. Plus, you can travel between all of the Great Lakes and major cities on just $2.50 a gallon of gas.
If you love the outdoors, then you’ll love visiting Utah. Home to the Rocky Mountains and pine forests, as well as desserts and sand dunes, there’s plenty to see in this western state. It’s affordable to travel with gas at just $2.35 a gallon and meals at an affordable $9.33 a plate.
Best Family Attractions in Each State
While this 48 state road trip route includes some beautiful natural and historic attractions, there’s plenty more to see and do with your family. These affordable stops in each state are the perfect and cost-effective way to complete your itinerary.
- Alabama: U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Arizona: Musical Instrument Museum
- Arkansas: Blanchard Springs Caverns
- California: Pointe Reyes National Seashore
- Colorado: Pikes Peak Cog Railroad
- Connecticut: Mystic Seaport Museum
- Delaware: Rehoboth Beach and Boardwalk
- Florida: Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
- Georgia: MLK, Jr. National Historic Park
- Idaho: World Center for Birds of Prey
- Illinois: Chicago’s Millennium Park
- Indiana: Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
- Iowa: John Deere Museum
- Kansas: Strataca Underground Salt Museum
- Kentucky: Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
- Louisiana: French Quarter
- Maine: Marginal Way
- Maryland: Assateague Island National Park
- Massachusetts: Historic Freedom Trail
- Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Minnesota: Mall of America
- Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Missouri: Gateway Arch Park
- Montana: Playmill Theatre
- Nevada: Neon Museum
- Nebraska: Museum of American Speed
- New Hampshire: StoryLand
- New Jersey: Grounds for Sculpture
- New Mexico: White Sands National Monument
- New York: Niagra Falls
- North Carolina: Dry Falls
- North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Ohio: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Oklahoma: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
- Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
- Pennsylvania: Duquesne Incline
- Rhode Island: The Cliff Walk
- South Carolina: Myrtle Beach
- South Dakota: 1880 Train Ride
- Tennessee: Graceland
- Texas: San Antonio Riverwalk
- Utah: Dinosaur National Monument
- Vermont: Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour
- Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg
- Washington: Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
- West Virginia: Wonderment Puppet Theater
- Wisconsin: Wisconsin Dells
- Wyoming: National Elk Refuge
If you’re running out of fun things to do at home, a 48-state road trip may be the perfect way to get out of the house and see all of the beauty the U.S. has to offer. With a little budgeting and plenty of snacks, you can plan your own perfect road trip vacation.
To determine the cost of a 48-state road trip, we began with a pre-determined road trip route from Randy Olson. Using this map and Google Maps, we determined how many miles were spent driving in each state. We collected data on average costs for the following items:
- Gas (per state)
- Restaurant meals (per state)
- Hotels (national average)
We also used the following assumptions to determine drive time and total cost estimates:
- A continuous speed of 55 MPH
- 8 hours of driving a day
- 3 restaurant meals a day
- Driving a Honda Accord with an average 34 MPG